Walking into the Horseshoe Tavern on Friday night, the sold out crowd seemed ready for a riot – albeit a good spirited one. An excess of alcohol was served to an audience that seemed to arrive pre-sweaty. Needless to say: it didn’t take much for California’s The Growlers to win anyone over.
“I don’t mean to stereotype you, but I knew you’d be rowdy Toronto,” vocalist Brooks Nielsen pointed out early on.
Playing the first of two sold out shows in Toronto, the six-piece brought their laissez-faire desert rock to an audience ready for a good time. And, just like the gigantic pop star playing down the street, The Growlers showed off a bevy of musical styles through the duration of their set – though all were grounded by Nielsen’s rather deadpan delivery. It bordered Julian Casablancas territory at points – particularly noticeable during the performance of “Purgatory Drive” from their 2014 record Chinese Fountain.
From circus rhythms to the upbeat (“What It Is”); old school slow dances (“Black Memories”) and beach-y vibes (“Someday” and set highlight “Hiroshima”); reggae (“Dull Boy”) and anthems for the disaffected youth (“Row”), the band had plenty of material to excite the crowd. Still touring their third full-length record – released last year to widespread acclaim – it’s hard to truly convey the enthusiasm that the Horseshoe contained that night. While the delivery of the material was fairly slowed down and measured (the band’s slacker personas belying an obvious talent), people were there for a good time and it certainly aided the performance.
It was even enough to carry them through apparent microphone troubles – Nielsen cycling through three of them and playing it off with a shrug. It was a distraction but by no means a detractor and showed a level of professionalism other acts would certainly struggle with.
It was also the type of show where you got the feeling that anything could happen. Whether it was girls getting on stage to dance or a hastily tacked on encore, The Growlers seemed comfortable rolling with the punches and playing to their audience. They ended on a high point, too – finishing their set with the absolutely astounding, disco sounding “Chinese Fountain” and the prominent bass line from Anthony Braun Perry on “Going Gets Tuff”.
The Growlers are easy to like, mostly because they sound and come off like your friend’s bar band. Except unlike your friend’s bar band, these guys are actually really good; no fake enthusiasm necessary.